David Fincher

David Andrew Leo Fincher[1][2] (born August 28, 1962) is an American film director, film producer, television director, television producer, and music video director. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008) and The Social Network (2010). For the latter, he won the Golden Globe Award for Best Director and the BAFTA Award for Best Direction.

David Fincher
Fincher in 2011
David Andrew Leo Fincher

(1962-08-28) August 28, 1962
OccupationFilm and television director and producer
Years active1980–present
Donya Fiorentino
(m. 1990; div. 1995)

Ceán Chaffin
(m. 1996)

His directorial debut was Alien 3, and he has since directed numerous films in the thriller genre, including Seven (1995), The Game (1997), Fight Club (1999), Panic Room (2002), Zodiac (2007), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) and Gone Girl (2014). He was also instrumental in the creation of the Netflix series House of Cards (2013–2018) and Mindhunter (2017–present) and has directed episodes of both series, winning the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series for the pilot episode of House of Cards.

His films Zodiac and The Social Network are ranked in BBC's 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century.[3]

Early life

Fincher was born on August 28, 1962 in Denver, Colorado,[4] the son of Claire Mae (née Boettcher), a mental health nurse from South Dakota who worked in drug addiction programs, and Howard Kelly "Jack" Fincher, an author from Oklahoma who worked as a reporter and bureau chief for Life.[5][6] Howard died of cancer in April 2003.[1][7] Fincher knew from a young age he wanted to go into filmmaking. When Fincher was two years old, the family moved to San Anselmo, California, where filmmaker George Lucas was one of his neighbors.[6]

Fincher moved to Ashland, Oregon in his teens, where he graduated from Ashland High School. During high school, he directed plays and designed sets and lighting after school, and was a non-union projectionist at a second-run movie theater, production assistant at the local television news station KOBI in Medford, Oregon, and took on other odd jobs such as fry cook, busboy, and dishwasher.[6][8] Inspired by Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Fincher began making movies at age eight with an 8mm camera.[6][4]


Early career

Fincher was employed at Korty Films as a production head. He then moved up the ranks and became a visual effects producer,[6] working on the animated Twice Upon a Time (1983) under the direction of his former neighbor, George Lucas. He was hired by Industrial Light & Magic in 1983 as an assistant cameraman and matte photographer,[6] and worked on Return of the Jedi (1983) and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984).[9] In 1984, he left ILM to direct a commercial for the American Cancer Society that depicted a fetus smoking a cigarette.[6] This quickly brought Fincher to the attention of producers in Los Angeles, and he was given the chance to direct the 1985 Rick Springfield documentary The Beat of the Live Drum.[10] Set on a directing career, Fincher co-founded video-production company Propaganda Films and started off directing music videos and commercials.[10]

Like Fincher, directors such as Michael Bay, Antoine Fuqua, Michel Gondry, Spike Jonze, Alex Proyas, Paul Rachman, Mark Romanek, Zack Snyder, Gore Verbinski and others honed their talents at Propaganda Films before moving on to feature films.[11] Though he would continue to direct spots for Levi's, Converse, Nike, Pepsi, Revlon, Sony, Coca-Cola, Chanel, and other companies,[6] Fincher began to focus on music videos. He directed the video for 1986's "We Don't Have to Take Our Clothes Off", which was the biggest commercial success for pop/R&B singer Jermaine Stewart,[4] Michael Jackson's "Who Is It", Aerosmith's "Janie's Got A Gun" and worked extensively with Madonna, directing videos for "Express Yourself", "Oh Father", "Vogue" and "Bad Girl".[10] He also directed Billy Idol's "Cradle of Love" video. Fincher referred to the production of music videos as his own kind of film school, in which he learned how to work efficiently within a small budget and time frame.[12][13]

1990s: Alien 3, Seven, The Game and Fight Club

20th Century Fox hired Fincher to replace Vincent Ward as the director of the science fiction horror film Alien 3 (1992), his feature directorial debut.[14] The third installment in the Alien franchise starring Sigourney Weaver, the film was released in May 1992 to a mixed reception from critics and was considered weaker than the preceding films in the franchise.[15] Film critic Roger Ebert, considered it to be "one of the best looking bad movies I’ve ever seen".[16] Fincher became involved with several disputes with 20th Century Fox over script and budget issues during the production. In Director's Cut: Picturing Hollywood in the 21st Century, he blames the producers for not putting the necessary trust in him.[17] He stated in an interview with The Guardian in 2009: "No one hated it more than me; to this day, no one hates it more than me."[18] It received an Academy Award nomination for Best Visual Effects.[19]

After directing the film, he retreated back into the world of commercial and music video directing, including the video for the Grammy Award for Best Short Form Music Video-winning song "Love Is Strong" by The Rolling Stones in 1994.[20] Following the difficult production of Alien 3, Fincher thought that he would "rather die of colon cancer than do another movie" and eschewed reading scripts.[21] Despite this, Fincher read Andrew Kevin Walker's screenplay for Seven (1995), which was actually Walker's original draft with the current ending, that was already removed by then attached director Jeremiah Chechik. Fincher expressed no interest in directing after reading the revised draft, until New Line Cinema agreed to keep the original ending.[22][21] It stars Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, R. Lee Ermey, and Kevin Spacey, and tells the story of two detectives (played by Pitt and Freeman) tracking down a serial killer who bases his murders on the seven deadly sins.[23] Seven was one of the highest-earning films of 1995, grossing more than $320 million internationally and was positively received by film critics.[24] Writing for Sight and Sound, John Wrathall wrote that it "stands as the most complex and disturbing entry in the serial killer genre since Manhunter" and Roger Ebert opined that Seven is "one of the darkest and most merciless films ever made in the Hollywood mainstream."[25][26]

After the success of Seven, Fincher went on to film a music video for "6th Avenue Heartache" by The Wallflowers[27] and the thriller The Game (1997) from a screenplay by the screenwriting duo John Brancato and Michael Ferris.[28] The story focuses on a San Franciscan investment banker (played by Michael Douglas) who receives an unusual gift from his younger brother (Sean Penn), in which he becomes involved in a "game" that integrates in strange ways with his everyday life, leading to frustration and uncertainty between the game and real life.[28] Fincher hired Seven screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker to make contributions and polishes to the script.[29] The film had middling box office returns, despite being met with generally positive reviews, with specific praise for Fincher's direction and Douglas' performance.[30] Since his reputation as a director has grown, The Game has received enough re-appraisal as an early indicator of his strengths to become became part of the esteemed Criterion Collection. [31]

In August 1997, Fincher agreed to direct a screen adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk's 1996 novel Fight Club for 20th Century Fox, his second film with the studio after the troubled production of Alien 3.[32] The film stars Edward Norton, Brad Pitt, and Helena Bonham Carter and follows an insomniac office worker who is known simply as The Narrator, played by Norton, who opens up a club devoted exclusively to bare knuckle fighting for men with soap salesman Tyler Durden (Pitt). Fight Club was an early disappointment at the box office and initially received mixed reviews. In the years following its release, Fight Club received a reassessment from many critics. Entertainment Weekly, which had originally given the film a D-,[33] later ranked the DVD #1 on its list of 50 Essential DVDs.[34] The film's social commentary has been the source of much critical analysis from academics and film critics. Around the same period, Fincher was shortlisted by Columbia Pictures, as one of the potential directors for Spider-Man: a live-action adaptation of the fictional comic-book character of the same name. Fincher's concept for the project had a more mature, psychologically-rooted and less action-oriented take on the classic Spider-Man mythos, skipped the titular character's origin story, instead covering those events in a 10-minute title sequence, put an emphasis on the character's struggles with his post-high school life and his super-human abilities, along with his relationship with his girlfriend/love interest: Gwen Stacy, featured the classic Spider-Man villain: the Green Goblin, as the main antagonist and would have also served as an adaptation of the iconic comic-book storyline: "The Night Gwen Stacy Died", which featured the death of Gwen Stacy at the hands of the Goblin. However, Fincher's pitch was rejected by the studio, with Sam Raimi later being hired to helm the project.

2000s: Panic Room, hiatus, Zodiac and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

In 2002, Fincher followed up with the thriller Panic Room. The film earned over $92 million at the U.S. box office. The story follows a single mother (Jodie Foster) and her daughter (Kristen Stewart) as they hide in a safe room of their new house, away from criminals (Forest Whitaker, Dwight Yoakam, and Fight Club collaborator Jared Leto) bent on finding a missing fortune. Fincher acknowledged Panic Room as a more mainstream thriller, describing the film, on the DVD's audio commentary, as "[basically] a date movie" and a "really good B movie" about "two people trapped in a closet".

Five years after Panic Room, Fincher returned on March 2, 2007 with Zodiac, an adaptation of Robert Graysmith's books about the hunt for the Zodiac Killer that starred Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey, Jr., Anthony Edwards, and Brian Cox. The first of Fincher's films to be shot digitally, the majority of the film was recorded on a Thomson Viper FilmStream HD digital movie camera . However, high-speed film cameras were used for the Blue Rock Springs and Presidio Heights murder scenes for the slow-motion shots.[35] It was originally to be released in the fall of 2006 but was pushed back after Fincher refused to cut 20 minutes off the film.

Zodiac was one of the best-reviewed films of that year, with only two other 2007 films appearing on more top-10 lists (No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood).[36] However, the film struggled at the box office in the U.S., earning only $33 million, but did well overseas with a foreign gross of $51.7 million. Worldwide, Zodiac was a decent success.[37] Despite an aggressive campaign by the studio, expectations surrounding Robert Downey, Jr.'s supporting performance, Fincher's direction and Vanderbilt's adapted script, the film did not earn a single Oscar nomination.[38]

A story about life and death, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story of the same name. The film was Fincher's third with Brad Pitt. The film started shooting in November 2006 in New Orleans, before moving on to the Virgin Islands, Montreal, and L.A. Both Zodiac and this film are co-productions of Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. The budget for the film was estimated at $150 million, partly due to the visual effects used to reverse the aging in Pitt's character. It received 13 nominations at the 81st Academy Awards, including Fincher's first nomination for Best Director. It won three Academy Awards for Best Art Direction, Best Makeup, and Best Visual Effects.

2010s: The Social Network, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl and television career

Fincher directed the 2010 film The Social Network, about the legal battles of Mark Zuckerberg and the founding of Facebook. The film features an Oscar-winning screenplay by Aaron Sorkin, adapted from the book The Accidental Billionaires. Filming started in October 2009[39] and was released a year later, to critical acclaim. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross created the Oscar-winning soundtrack for the film. The film went on to win many awards, including three Academy Awards for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Original Score, and Best Film Editing.[40]

In 2011, Fincher directed the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, based on the book by Stieg Larsson, with a script written by Steven Zaillian. The film was shot in Sweden, with Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander and Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross composed the soundtrack for the film, collaborating with Fincher a second time.[41] The film received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Actress for Mara, and won the award for Best Film Editing.

Fincher is an executive producer of the Netflix television series House of Cards, of which he also directed the first two episodes.[42] The series has received positive reviews, earning nine Primetime Emmy nominations, including Outstanding Drama Series and winning Fincher the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series for the first episode.[43]

In 2014, Fincher directed the adaptation of Gillian Flynn's novel Gone Girl, which starred Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike.[44][45] The film earned Pike an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress, Fincher also received his third Golden Globe nomination.

In 2016, Fincher directed another Netflix series, Mindhunter, starring Holt McCallany and Jonathan Groff. The series, based on the book Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit, debuted worldwide on October 13, 2017.[46][47]

Upcoming projects

Unrealized projects

  • Rendezvous with Rama: In the early 2000s David Fincher was attached to make a film adaption of the sci-fi story Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke with Morgan Freeman to star and produce the film with Fincher.[50] However, in 2008, Fincher said that the film will be unlikely made due to script problems.
  • Hard Boiled: In 2001, Variety reported that Warner Brothers was in negotiations with Miller and Darrow to adapt the comic book into a feature film, Fincher set to direct and Nicolas Cage to star. The website comics2film stated that Cage informed Cinescape magazine that he was working to produce the film under his company, Saturn Films. In 2008, Miller stated that he would be directing the film version.[51] In 2013, Vehicle 19 director Mukunda Michael Dewil stated that he would be directing the film version.[52] In 2016, Deadline reports that Warner Bros. are working on acquiring the rights to Hard Boiled with Ben Wheatley and is looking to reteam with his High-Rise star Tom Hiddleston for the film.[53]
  • Torso: In 2006, Fincher was hired to direct a film version of the dark crime comic book Torso with a script written by Ehren Kruger, and produced by Bill Mechanic, Don Murphy, Todd McFarlane and Terry Fitzgerald for Miramax Films.[54] However, the production was shut down due to problems at Miramax and the rights were reverted to author Brian Michael Bendis.
  • The Killer: In November 2007, the comic book series The Killer was being made into a film by Paramount Pictures and director David Fincher.[55] Since then, there has been no further development news.
  • Black Hole: In February 2008, Variety reported that the film would be produced by Paramount Pictures and directed by Fincher. In October 2008, MTV reported that scriptwriters Gaiman and Avary had left the production, reporting that their script would not be used by Fincher; though no replacement scriptwriter was announced. In August 2010, Fincher also removed his name from production of the film in order to focus more attention on directing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy.[56]
  • The Library: After journalist Dave Cullen's book Columbine was released and later adapted into a play in 2014, the rights were bought by two producers, Kathy Kennedy and Frank Marshall, and Fincher considered turning it into a film; however, it never came to fruition due to fears of how audiences would react to the gruesomeness.[57]
  • Shakedown: In 2014, Fincher signed a three-series deal with HBO for Utopia, Shakedown, and Videosyncrazy. Shakedown, a noir-ish crime drama, was about the tabloid world and the underbelly of Los Angeles in the 1950s and centered on a real-life private detective.[58] In August 2015, budget disputes between Fincher and the network halted production of Shakedown.[59] Since then, there has not been any further development.
  • Utopia adaptation: In 2014, Fincher signed a three-series deal with HBO for Utopia, Shakedown, and Videosyncrazy. Utopia was set to be an adaptation of the British series of the same name.[60] In August 2015, budget disputes between Fincher and the network halted production of Utopia.[59] However, the project received second life at Amazon, with the streamer ordering the project to series with a 2019 release and instead with Fincher collaborator Gillian Flynn as lead-showrunner.[61]
  • Videosyncrazy: In 2014, Fincher signed a three-series deal with HBO for Utopia, Shakedown, and Videosyncrazy. Videosyncrazy, a comedy set in the 1980s, would follow Robby, a college drop out, pursuing his dream as a music video and film director in Hollywood.[62] In August 2015, budget disputes between Fincher and the network halted production of Videosyncrazy.[59] Since then, the project has been abandoned.
  • World War Z sequel: Paramount Studios chief Jim Gianopulos said in June 2017 that a sequel to World War Z was "in advanced development" with director Fincher and star Brad Pitt.[63] Filming was slated to start in late 2018.[64] In April 2018, it was revealed that filming will not begin in 2018 as Fincher focuses on his TV-series Mindhunter. In October 2018, producers Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner confirmed that filming would begin in June 2019 with Fincher still attached to direct.[65] However, in February 2019, the project was reportedly placed on hold by Paramount.[66]

Approach and style

Fincher likes to map out camera movements with computer-generated imagery, commission intricate sets, get heavily involved in post-production, and re-shoot footage after the principal photography has wrapped.[67] He does not normally use hand-held cameras when he shoots a film, preferring cameras on a tripod. His most notable uses of hand-held cameras were Seven, in which five scenes were shot that way, and Gone Girl, most notably during the paparazzi media scene storming over the film's main character, Nick Dunne.

Fincher's music videos very rarely tell a story, focusing instead on conveying the mood of the song. In order to achieve this, the editing, the pans and close-ups of the camera closely follow the rhythms of the music and the lyrics in precise synchrony.[12]

In a Blu-ray bonus featurette of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Fincher stated: "I think people are perverts. I've maintained that. That's the foundation of my career."[68]

Personal life

Fincher married model–photographer Donya Fiorentino (born 1967) in 1990 and divorced in 1995.[69] They have a daughter, Phelix Imogen Fincher, born 1994.[70] Fincher is currently married to producer Ceán Chaffin.[71]




Year Title Notes
2013–2018 House of Cards Also executive producer;
Directed 2 episodes
2017–present Mindhunter Also executive producer;
Directed 7 episodes
2019 Love, Death & Robots Executive producer

Music videos

As a music video director, Fincher has won two Grammy Awards for Best Music Video, for his work in "Love Is Strong" by The Rolling Stones (1995) and "Suit & Tie" by Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z (2013), and three MTV Video Music Awards for Best Direction, being one of the most awarded directors in the category, alongside Spike Jonze. He also earned back-to-back MTV Video Music Awards for Best Direction in 1989 for Madonna's "Express Yourself" (1989) and for "Vogue" (1990). In 1990, he earned three of the four available nominations in the Best Direction category.


Critical reception

Film Rotten Tomatoes Metacritic
Alien342% (52 reviews)[72]59 (20 reviews)[73]
Seven81% (72 reviews)[74]65 (22 reviews)[75]
The Game73% (56 reviews)[76]61 (19 reviews)[77]
Fight Club79% (166 reviews)[78]66 (35 reviews)[79]
Panic Room75% (185 reviews)[80]65 (36 reviews)[81]
Zodiac89% (248 reviews)[82]78 (40 reviews)[83]
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button71% (246 reviews)[84]70 (37 reviews)[85]
The Social Network96% (307 reviews)[86]95 (42 reviews)[87]
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo86% (237 reviews)[88]71 (41 reviews)[89]
Gone Girl87% (342 reviews)[90]79 (49 reviews)[91]

Box office performance

Film Studio Release date Box office gross Budget
North America Other territories Worldwide
Alien3 20th Century Fox May 22, 1992 (1992-05-22) $55,473,545 $104,340,953 $159,814,498 $50 million[92]
Seven New Line Cinema September 22, 1995 (1995-09-22) $100,125,643 $227,186,216 $327,311,859 $33 million[93]
The Game PolyGram September 12, 1997 (1997-09-12) $48,323,648 $61,100,000 $109,423,648 $50 million[94]
Fight Club 20th Century Fox October 15, 1999 (1999-10-15) $37,030,102 $63,823,651 $100,853,753 $63 million[95]
Panic Room Columbia March 29, 2002 (2002-03-29) $96,397,334 $100,000,081 $196,397,415 $48 million[96]
Zodiac Paramount / Warner Bros. March 2, 2007 (2007-03-02) $33,080,084 $51,705,830 $84,785,914 $65 million[97]
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button December 25, 2008 (2008-12-25) $127,509,326 $206,422,757 $333,932,083 $150 million[98]
The Social Network Columbia October 1, 2010 (2010-10-01) $96,962,694 $127,957,621 $224,920,315 $40 million[99]
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Columbia / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer December 20, 2011 (2011-12-20) $102,068,888 $130,101,637 $232,617,430 $90 million[100]
Gone Girl 20th Century Fox October 3, 2014 (2014-10-03) $167,238,510 $199,700,000 $366,938,510 $61 million[101]
Total $858,764,264 $1,246,038,476 $2,136,548,250 $650 million


Year Film Academy Awards BAFTA Awards Golden Globe Awards
Nominations Wins Nominations Wins Nominations Wins
1992 Alien 3 1 1
1995 Seven 1 1
1999 Fight Club 1
2008 The Curious Case of Benjamin Button 13 3 11 3 5
2010 The Social Network 8 3 7 3 6 4
2011 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo 5 1 2 2
2014 Gone Girl 1 2 4
Total 30 7 24 6 17 4

Fincher, alongside Joshua Donen and Eric Roth, won a Peabody Award for their work on House of Cards.[102]

His films Zodiac and The Social Network are ranked in the BBC's 100 Greatest Films of the 21st Century list.[103]


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Further reading

  • Waxman, Sharon, ed. (2005). Rebels on the Backlot: Six Maverick Directors and How They Conquered the Hollywood Studio System. HarperEntertainment.
Awards and achievements
National Board of Review
Preceded by
Tim Burton
for Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
Best Director
for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Succeeded by
Clint Eastwood
for Invictus
National Board of Review
Preceded by
Clint Eastwood
for Invictus
Best Director
for The Social Network

Succeeded by
Martin Scorsese
for Hugo
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